Thomas Wright sur­veys in Malpeque Bay but inac­cu­racy of his work in West Prince leads to sev­eral prob­lems

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - FEATURES/COMMUNITY -

Editor’s note: This is one of a se­ries by Earle Lockerby re­count­ing the de­tails of Capt. Hol­land’s Sur­vey in 1764/1765. This sub­mis­sion is for the week end­ing July 4.

Deputy Surveyor Thomas Wright, one of the few civil­ians in Cap­tain Sa­muel Hol­land’s sur­vey party, spent the whole week sur­vey­ing in Malpeque Bay which a few months later would be given the name Rich­mond Bay by Hol­land. Wright had be­gun sur­vey­ing the bay on June 20 and by July 4 was still not fin­ished with it.

There are sev­eral rea­sons why the sur­vey­ing of this bay re­quired a lot of time. First, it is “com­plex” in that it con­tains sev­eral is­lands, has bar­rier dunes across its mouth, has a sub­stan­tial river, the Grand River, run­ning into it, and at that time had two chan­nels lead­ing into it from the Gulf (but now only one). It was viewed as one of the three most im­por­tant har­bours on the Is­land, and per­haps the most im­por­tant in re­la­tion to the fish­ery.

More­over, on the western side of the bay lay the re­mains of a pre-de­por­ta­tion Aca­dian set­tle­ment of Malpec. The cen­tre of the set­tle­ment was near the present-day Port Hill, but it ex­tended along the coast to the Grand River and north­ward to the present-day Bide­ford - in what are now Lots 13 and 14 were 36 houses and barns and an es­ti­mated 1,100 acres of cleared land. Con­se­quently, Wright spent con­sid­er­able time sur­vey­ing and sound­ing the Malpeque Bay area.

It is a com­mon per­cep­tion that Hol­land’s map of St. John’s Is­land is ex­ceed­ingly ac­cu­rate. While the map is, in gen­eral, very ac­cu­rate for its time, al­low­ing for the equip­ment and tech­niques avail­able to Hol­land, it is not as ac­cu­rate as has been pre­sumed, most no­tably in the West Prince area where parts of the coast are not ac­cu­rately de­picted and, con­se­quently, the land area is un­der­es­ti­mated by more than 20,000 acres — the equiv­a­lent of a whole town­ship! This of course was the re­gion sur­veyed by Wright. In­deed, most of the “prob­lem ar­eas," not only in Prince County, but also on the north shore of the western part of Queens County, can be at­trib­uted to Wright. How­ever, it must also be ac­knowl­edged that Thomas Wright sur­veyed more of the Is­land’s coast­line than any other sur- veyor in Hol­land’s team.

It took some decades be­fore sur­vey­ors who were lay­ing out town­ship bound­aries on the ground re­al­ized the dis­crep­an­cies be­tween the Hol­land map and the ac­tual ter­rain in West Prince — to the west and north of the present-day Portage. The prob­lem be­came so vex­ing for sur­vey­ors that in 1840 the House of Assem­bly en­acted leg­is­la­tion that sus­pended the ap­pli­ca­tion in Prince County of the Bound­ary Lines Act that had been passed in 1834. In the pre­am­ble of the act of 1840 one may read the words: “Ow­ing to the inac­cu­racy of the orig­i­nal plan of the Is­land...," i.e., the Hol­land map. The act of 1840 brought to a stand­still for sev­eral years all sur­vey­ing of town­ship bound­aries in Prince County — and the sus­pen­sion lasted even longer in West Prince - un­til sur­vey­ors could fig­ure out how to re­solve these dif­fi­cul­ties.

Read­ers may learn more about these prob­lems and about the ac­cu­racy of Hol­land’s map in the soon-to-be-re­leased book, Sa­muel Hol­land: His Work and Legacy on Prince Ed­ward Is­land.

Earle Lockerby is a co-au­thor of Sa­muel Hol­land: His Work and Legacy on Prince Ed­ward Is­land. The book will be launched from noon to 1:30 p.m., July 6 in Room 319, Cen­tre for Ap­plied Science and Tech­nol­ogy, Hol­land Col­lege (300 Kent St., Char­lot­te­town). Re­fresh­ments will be pro­vided. Lockerby can be con­tacted by email at

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